A Chat About Chutney with Candi Robertson

IMG_4756 For my first in a series of interviews with some of the best independent food producers in North Norfolk, I had the pleasure of meeting Candi Robertson, the woman behind the “Candi’s Chutney” brand. Having met Candi on a few previous occasions at Farmers’ Markets and foodie events, I was keen to hear how this former head chef ended up making award-winning products from her “chutney barn” in Holt.

Sitting down over a cup of tea with the deliciously warm, fruity smells of chutney wafting in from the kitchen next door, Candi told me that she’d worked as a chef for 22 years and during that time used to make her own small range of chutneys which she sold at local markets. The small profit that she made at these events selling a couple of dozen jars each time funded family holidays and treats for her children. When Candi had to give up working as a chef due to a shoulder problem, she had more time to spend on her own product and in 2012, she had a stand at the two day Holkham Food Festival where the 300 jars she’d taken with her sold out early on the second day. This is when Candi realised that her chutneys had a very promising future.

In the beginning, Candi’s business was home-based but rapid expansion meant that she needed to move into commercial premises in October 2015. During the interview, I had a quick peek in the kitchen and there were four huge pans of parsnip and chilli chutney (her best-selling flavour) on the go, with each pan producing 30 jars of chutney with no preservatives, artificial colours or additives in any of the flavours.

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I was surprised to learn that rather than having a team of kitchen staff, Candi makes the chutney herself so all of the ingredients are hand-prepared, grated, chopped and cooked and then each jar of chutney is hand-filled and hand-labelled. Candi admits it’s a time-consuming process but feels it’s the best way to control quality and ensure the results are consistent. Candi is in the kitchen from Mondays to Fridays and deals with other aspects of the business at weekends – that is, when she’s not attending markets or food festivals.

Currently, there are 186 stockists of Candi’s products in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire including ‘Bakers and Larners’ and ‘Jimmy’s Farm’. Tearooms, pubs and cafes also have Candi’s Chutney on the menu, for example, The Art Café in Glandford, Pensthorpe Natural Park Café and The Crown Hotel in Wells, to name but a few.

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Candi currently only sells her products within East Anglia and takes great pride in sourcing ingredients from local growers and suppliers although certain items such as cassia bark and star anise have to be obtained from further afield. Candi has won several prestigious awards for her chutney and her most recent success was “Best Norfolk Food Producer” in the Muddy Stiletto Awards 2016 and he brand has just been nominated as a Norfolk Food Hero by the Aylsham Show. Three flavours have also won “Great Taste Awards” namely the Parsnip & Chilli Chutney (2013), the Norfolk Crier Onion Marmalade (2014) and the Spiced Carrot Chutney (2015). Also in 2015, Kettle Crisps chose Candi’s Chutney as the winner of their “Business Mentoring Award”. There were also “highly commended” certificates from the “Norfolk Food & Drink Awards” in 2013 and 2014.

 

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Candi has signed up to the “Proudly Norfolk Food & Drink” labelling scheme and the idea is that products with this label stand out on the shelves when lined up with mass produced items. For the consumer, you know that you are supporting genuine local food producers who care passionately about their products.

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I asked whether, given the amount of recognition Candi’s Chutney has received from the food industry, she had plans to expand the business further. Candi replied that although it’s something she’ll have to consider, she’s is concerned that the business could lose its “small family business” element if she grew too much.

If you’d like to learn how to make chutney yourself, Candi has set up a “Chutney Club” where you can find out the secrets of how to make a good chutney, suggested ingredients and a “how to” technique. Contact Candi via her website or speak to her at one of the foodie events she attends if this is something that would interest you.

Candi will be attending the Royal Norfolk Show on 29th And 30th June 2016 so it’s an ideal opportunity to sample her chutneys and take a few jars home.

This is Candi in full sales mode – always with a smile!

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Other upcoming events for Candi are:

Saturday 2nd July 2016 – Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market

Saturday 9th July 2016 – The Norfolk Diet Farmers’ Market

Saturday 16th July 2016 – White House Farm, Norwich PYO

Sunday 17th July 2016 1pm to 5pm – Barnham Broom Village Fete

 

 

 

Candi’s website is: http://www.candischutney.vpweb.co.uk and she’s also on Facebook and Twitter (@candischutney1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A review of Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market, Norfolk

We’ve recently moved to North Norfolk from south London where every month in our small town a ‘Farmers’ Market’ took place, or rather, what a non-country town would class as one anyway. There were usually about 15 stalls and while you could buy cheese, some meat and fish, vegetables and cakes, most of the stallholders were not local and the goods weren’t particularly exciting. The Council wouldn’t allow two stalls to sell similar wares so you didn’t have the option of trying a variety of foodie things from different suppliers which I found a little disappointing.

So when I saw that Creake Abbey in North Creake, Norfolk, holds a monthly Farmers’ Market with over 50 – yes, fifty – food producers in attendance, I simply had to go and have a look. From where I live, this meant a 70 mile round trip but for a morning out where I could indulge my curiosity for all things food-related, it would be worth it. As luck would have it, it was a fine day and the drive there was easy. The traffic in Norfolk is nothing like it was near Croydon!

When I arrived at Creake Abbey on Saturday 7th May, I really didn’t know where to begin browsing as there are some permanent shops on the site, a café, a food hall as well as the various stalls run by the local producers. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop – slightly overwhelmed by the scale of it all but desperate to see as much as I could.

To sum it up and as detailed on the flyers for the market, you could buy: the finest meat and vegetables, pies, pastries, puddings and tartes, fresh juices, cordials, breads and ‘morning goods’, dairy produce, cheese, plants, herbs, beer, chocolate, fudge and more. Many of the stallholders provided tasting samples which is a great idea although my Slimming World leader may have been slightly aghast at the amount of things I had to try!

I can’t list here all the wonderful produce I saw although I’ll give a shout out to the companies whose goods I purchased on the day.

Here is the lovely Candi from “Candi’s Chutney”.

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I love a good chutney or pickle and Candi has come up with some sublime flavours. I had to sample several (ahem) but went away clutching jars of Parsnip & Chilli, Norfolk Nobbly (yes, really!) and a seasonal asparagus chutney. For me, a plus point is that Candi doesn’t fill most of her chutneys with lots of dried fruit as I really don’t like sultanas and raisins. Apparently a new flavour is under development and I’ve been told gin will be involved. Now that is one to watch out for! Candi’s website is: www.candischutney.vpweb.co.uk

I was delighted to find that the Fruit Pig Company sold their own version of an elusive sausage that I’d been hankering after for a while and so I nabbed one of the last packs of ‘merguez’. This is traditionally a red spicy mutton or beef based fresh sausage flavoured with cumin, chilli pepper and other spices and originated from Arab / North African cuisine. I first tasted it when I lived in Paris years ago but sadly you don’t see it much in the UK although you can find it at specialist or ethnic butchers. You can order your porky goodies online including some posh black pudding: www.fruitpigcompany.com

Here is the very friendly, smiley chap I bought the merguez from:

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I met Sarah who produces the most divine “Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies” and I simply had to buy a seasonal special which was pork and wild garlic. I took this home and shared it with my husband – he was a happy man! Both he and I recall the awful mass produced pork pies we used to be given in packed lunches when we went on school trips in the 1970s. Thank goodness there are people like Sarah who have elevated the humble pork pie to superstar status. The ingredients are simple but high quality: North Norfolk outdoor reared pork, a secret blend of herbs and spices and a hot water crust pastry plus other ingredients depending on the season. There is no jelly in the pies so what you taste is pure porky, herby goodness. The website is: http://www.perfectpie.co.uk

I know from personal experience that you can buy Bray’s Cottage pies in places like ‘Back to the Garden’ in Letheringsett, ‘Bakers and Larners’ in Holt and ‘Picnic Fayre’ in Cley but of course the pies are to be found elsewhere too. Here’s Sarah on the stall, which I have to say was looking extremely ‘sold out’ by the time I got there.

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Finally, I didn’t just buy things I could eat – I also found a lovely tea supplier called “Nelson & Norfolk Tea Co” run by Mark Richmond who is based in North Walsham. I purchased a couple of his fruity, caffeine free blends which smelled absolutely wonderful. Mark has over 20 years’ experience in the tea business and his range includes the very popular ‘Norfolk Tea’ (an all-day blend of black teas), ‘Norfolk Earl Grey’, chocolate tea, fruity teas and green teas.

Mark’s website is: www.nelsonandnorfolktea.co.uk

This was the tea stall on the day I visited:

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I chatted with lots of other producers – including ‘Ollands Farm Foods’, ‘Chilli Fundamentals’ and ‘Hands On Preserves’ – but sadly my spending money on the day was limited otherwise I would have bought more goodies. There’s always next time though as the Farmers’ Market is held on the first Saturday of every month (except January). If you are free on Saturday 4th June 2016, I recommend you go along as Creake Abbey definitely holds one of the best Farmers’ Markets that I’ve seen.

The website with all the details is: www.creakeabbey.co.uk

 

 

Disclaimer: I was not asked to write about Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market and the above article represents my impressions on the day. I was not given any freebies or incentivised in any other way in return for a favourable review.

 

 

The Cake & Bake Show – London 2015

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I was lucky enough to be allocated a Press Pass for this year’s Cake & Bake Show in London and despite having a cold that was getting worse by the hour, I toddled off to Excel on the morning of Friday 2nd October 2015 full of excitement. My journey via bus, tube and two lots of the DLR (Docklands Light Railway for non-Londoners) took a fair while but it’s worth it when you end up at a marvellous event like the C&B Show. I have to say that I’m always amazed by the amount of work that goes into setting up these events. The venue is huge – it’s vast like an aircraft hangar when you walk into the main doors at Excel – and there are so many stands, cakes and people that it takes your breath away. The first photo in this post is of the official Cake and Bake Show cake – it really was a stunner.

I came prepared this time with a plan of what I’d do first and seeing the competition cakes was a must. Going earlyish on the first day of the Show means that the judging is still under way so you don’t know who the winners are until later on. I did catch sight of celebrity chefs Phil Vickery and Rosemary Schrader judging some of the ‘Children’s’ Story’ themed cakes, with their heads down, deep in judgely conversation.

There were lots of people desperate to get a good view of the competition cakes made by professional and amateur bakers alike and so I couldn’t always get a good photograph as I’m not the sort of person who elbows others out of the way! Here are some of the ‘ Childrens’ Story’ themed cakes that caught my eye:

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After escaping from the bustling crowds around the competition area, I headed for the stands to see what goodies were available to buy. It’s fortunate that visitors to the show are issued with a floor plan of the venue because it was very easy to get lost there! One of the first people I saw was Steven Dotsch from The Speculaas Spice Company – http://www.speculaasspice.co.uk. Steven’s spice mix contains a mixture of nine organic spices including cinnamon, cloves, ginger plus 6 other secret spices and can be used in sweet dishes as well as savoury. Steven kindly gave me a sample of his spice mix so I will be using it as soon as I can in a cake or biscuits. Here is Steven at his stand:

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I then spotted the very attractive stand – lots of pink! – of ‘Scrumptious Sprinkles’ which despite its name doesn’t just sell sprinkles. While there are indeed sprinkles for all occasions and a beautiful selection of some that can be classed as more sophisticated than the generally child-orientated hundreds and thousands, there were cake tins, cupcake cases, biscuit cutters and a lot more. I bought a set of Christmas biscuit cutters which represented my first purchase this year of a festive item. The stand was very busy and it clearly was proving hard for the shoppers to limit themselves to buying just one pot of sprinkles. You can buy online too at http://www.scrumptious.uk.net. Here is a photo of Niki one of the lovely ‘boss ladies’ who didn’t really want her photo taken!

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One of the things I really like about going to cake or food shows is that there are always tasters available. If you plan your circuit well, you could probably do without lunch and just go around the stands trying out various things. The Cake and Bake Show is good because there are non cakey food suppliers there too. I sampled quite a lot of cheese, some olives, biscuits, marshmallows, oils & vinegars, fudge so I definitely didn’t need any lunch!

One of the stands with samples available was “Arapina” – http://www.arapina.co.uk. At first, I thought it was simple jam but I was told that the ‘teaspoon desserts’ – a symbol of Greek hospitality – were created to preserve fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers. The name comes from the habit of serving them on a small plate. By using a few simple ingredients such as fruit, sugar, herbs and a touch of lemon, the raw material keeps its original shape, colour and flavour as well as its nutritional properties. I particularly like the sour cherry and the walnut varieties so I bought a large jar of each. I could see them being used as toppings for ice creams or other desserts, porridge and yoghurt as well as for making cakes. Arapina also makes gluten and dairy free cakes – have a look at their website for more information. Here is a photo of the Arapina ladies:

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I made sure I said hello to the people at one of my favourite suppliers ‘Sugar and Crumbs’ who sell a range of naturally flavoured icing sugars and cocoa powders. I’ve used their products previously and have written about them and created recipes for their blog. Again, their stand was very busy so I thought I’d better nab a couple of packets of the Christmas flavoured icing sugars as they clearly were in demand. I’m looking forward to trying them out, especially ‘Santa’s Snowball’ which has the flavour of white chocolate – one of my favourite things. (I’m a child of the 1960s and I still remember the television adverts with the Milky Bar Kid. I think that’s what set me off down that route…..). I recommend that you have a look at their website both to purchase some items but also to look at the recipes that are there – http://www.sugarandcrumbs.co.uk.

I can’t list all the stalls I visited but my some of my favourites included: Baker & Maker, Cake Craft World, Drury & Alldis oils and vinegars, It’s a Baking Thing, Purple Cupcakes, Simply Vintage Designs and Snowdonia Cheese Company.

Of course, the supplier stands are just part of the Cake and Bake Show. There were also demonstrations and classes going on over the three days and so you could have seen people like Eric Lanlard, John White, Lisa Faulkner, Jo Wheatley, Rosemary Schrager and lots more. I dipped in and out of a few demos which were all very well-attended although I was a little disappointed that on the day I was there, Eric Lanlard wasn’t!

However I did bump into Edd Kimber, who won the first Great British Bake Off back in 2010. He’s written three books to date and I mentioned that I’d recently made his lemon madeleines from ‘Patisserie Made Simple’ , to which he replied that was his favourite book of the three. He also added that he was working on book number four so that will be something to look forward to in 2016. I cheekily asked him to pose for a photo which he kindly did but I can’t help thinking that I look like his grandmother.. Note to self: consider dyeing the hair!image1 - Copy (23)

In summary, if you want a great day out surrounded by cake and foodie people, the Cake and Bake Show is an essential place to go. I’d suggest sturdy shoes as there’s lots of walking involved when the venue is as large as Excel, a couple of strong bags to carry home your goodies (a shopping trolley would be even better), and a credit card that can take a bashing because you will buy too much! If you can’t get to London, there are also shows in Manchester and Edinburgh so wherever you are in the UK, you should be able to experience one.

The Flavoured Shortbread Bakery – purveyors of very special shortbread

Shortbread 2When I attended the BBC Good Food Festival at Hampton Court last month, I met a lot of food (and drink!) producers and sampled various goodies, some of which I’ve already written about on this blog.

Another stand that I saw, I liked and I tasted at was run by Rayo Earls who makes a variety of flavoured shortbreads. Now you may think that shortbread is shortbread and that’s it but Rayo’s products took it to another level. I’ve had lavender shortbread before (which I have to say isn’t to my taste) and some with nuts in but that’s about as far as my shortbread experience goes. I tend not to make it at home as we aren’t a particularly ‘biscuity’ family.

Rayo had samples of several different shortbreads on offer and of course, I couldn’t write about them without having a nibble first! Rayo flavours her shortbread with a combination of herbs, spices, fruits and nuts and while some combinations may be well known, others are quite different for instance ‘walnut & fennel’, ‘cardamom & pistachio’ and ‘juniper, gin and lemon’. The shortbread itself is made from only butter, flour and sugar and so the flavour combinations are not dulled by additional ingredients or additives (and all ingredients are sourced from the UK with a preference for local suppliers).

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I was interested to find out how Rayo’s company came about. She told me that she had taken a career break from working as an engineering consultant before starting her baking business. Like many people, Rayo baked to relax and after successfully testing some flavoured shortbread on a group of friends, the idea grew from there.

Rayo bases her flavour  combinations on things she thinks will go well together and does a lot of trialling with willing volunteers (I must give her my address!) before finally selecting a flavour that will go on sale. Her target market is quite simply people who love shortbread and enjoy experimenting with new and potentially unusual taste sensations.

At the moment, Rayo has a regular stall at the monthly Farmers’ Market at Walton-On-Thames (9.30am to 2pm on 1st Saturday of the month) and has plans to supply independent shops and farm shops and thus get the shortbread word out there.

If you’d like to read more about Rayo’s company and her variety of flavoured shortbreads – which you can order by post – please visit her website: www.theflavouredshortbreadbakery.com.

I hope to work with more small, independent foodie producers to review their products on my blog. If you know of any that wish to get their name ‘out there’, please point them in my direction!

Disclaimer: I did not receive any freebies from The Flavoured Shortbread Bakery nor was I paid or asked to write this review. 

A Grand Day Out at the BBC Good Food Show

I was kindly allocated a press pass (as a person with a food blog) to attend the BBC Good Food Show at Hampton Court which is running for 3 days from Saturday 29th to Monday 31st August 2015. I appreciated the opportunity to see what BBC Good Food would do with an all round Food Festival as most of the shows I’ve been to over the last couple of years have had a cake and baking theme.

Hampton Court is a fantastic venue for an event like a food festival. The extensive grounds mean that the stands aren’t squashed together in tight rows and you can walk around feeling you’re stepping on anyone else’s toes. When I arrived in the early afternoon, the sun was shining, there was live music playing in a pretty bandstand and there was a very lively atmosphere. The rain did sadly make an appearance later on in the day but at least I’d packed a small but efficient umbrella just in case.

I decided that as there were almost 100 foodie related stands to see, it was easiest to have an initial browse to see what was there and then to revisit stands with the goodies that tempted me the most. What I really like about food festivals like this is the variety. Some companies that exhibited this time were already well known such as ‘Bonne Maman’, ‘Montezuma’s Chocolates’, ‘The Garlic Farm’ and ‘Vitamix’ but then you see the sometimes relatively new producers that wow you with their offerings. I saw lots of things I liked and I could have spent a fortune but as I had used public transport to get to the event, I had to be realistic about what I could reasonably carry back with me.

Much as I loved many of the items on display, I couldn’t buy from everyone. I’d like to give a special mention to ‘The Tipsy Tart’ (www.thetipsytart.co.uk) having sampled their caramel infused vodka; ‘Pukara Estate’  (ww.pukara-estate.co.uk) who produce flavoured oils and vinegars with real depth, and ‘Oppo’ (www.oppoicecream.co.uk) who make luxury, healthy ice cream using virgin coconut oil, stevia leaf, fresh milk and superfoods. I tried the salted caramel and lucuma ice cream and it was excellent but alas, I couldn’t take home a pot as it would have melted after a lengthy journey home on public transport.

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If you ever get he chance to try the Pukara Estate products, I recommend the lime infused olive oil mixed with some of their caramelised balsamic vinegar as it combines well to make a flavourful dip for crusty bread.

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I also spent half an hour in the company of John Whaite, who in 2012 won the Great British Bake Off. Well, actually I watched him do a live cookery demonstration in the Summer Kitchen Theatre. I was somewhat taken aback – although really chuffed – when he said hello to me. He must have remembered me from the recent Foodies Festival on Clapham Common when I walked with him from the tube station to the event and we had a god chat. I hope he doesn’t have me pegged as a stalker when I’m simply a bit of a food enthusiast. John’s recipe for Korean fried chicken smelled so good but sadly it was whipped away after the demo for the crew to eat. Pfffft. What was that about? John did say he would put the recipe on Twitter so do look out for it.

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I was lucky to be in the front row, hence the close up picture. If ever you get the opportunity to watch John doing a demonstration, I’m sure you’ll be charmed by his sense of humour.

I didn’t get the chance to see any of the interviews that took place on the Interview Stage and so also missed out on the possibility of winning a Lakeland voucher. Never mind…… Next time……

I’m going to write separate posts about some of the producers I saw, namely ‘Pinkster Gin’, ‘Coole Swan Irish Cream’ and ‘The Flavoured Shortbread Bakery’ as I think they deserve a few column inches in their own right.

I left the BBC Good Food Festival having enjoyed a really good experience. Due to time constraints, I didn’t get the chance to eat and I was disappointed not to have squeezed in a light meal at ‘The Bingham Pop Up Restaurant’. There are other BBC Good Food Shows coming up later in the year so next time I won’t miss out.

Finally, I’d like to say what a pleasure it was to meet up with my friend Kevin who writes a food and craft blog called ‘The Crafty Larder’. He’d travelled down from Norwich for the event at Hampton Court which just goes to show that you can never keep a chap away from good food. Here we are in the front row at John White’s demo.

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